So thus we enter the Squid Games portion of USMNT World Cup roster selection. We are just three sleeps from the first of two friendlies which will serve as the team’s final dress rehearsal ahead of November. The Baby Eagles face Japan in Dusseldorf, Germany on Friday at 8:25 a.m. ET on ESPN+ (sign up HERE), and Saudi Arabia in Murica, Spain on Tuesday, Sept. 27 at 2 p.m. ET on FOX.
Right now, our boys are in camp, in Germany, going through final bounce-pass drills. Some coming off imperious runs of form in Europe’s biggest leagues. Others, well rested, after Queen Elizabeth II’s passing forced the cancellation of a second straight week of fixtures for some Premier League teams. Here’s a look at who’s there, who’s not, and their form heading into camp.
WHAT THE PEFOK?
The most controversial omission from Gregg’s most recent roster: Jordan Pefok. The perception of his absence went from “it’s just a little turbulence” to “why are the engines engulfed in flames as we barrel towards the ground?” this weekend when the 26-year-old Washington, DC-born striker scored a Big Boy goal. A redirected first-half header so precise, so emphatic, so well-timed that it left one former Bundesliga player questioning if Pefok has the potential to replace Lewy at Bayern.
Yes, this goal will have only lit the fuse on what was the tinderbox of Pefok’s absence, but the gent has four goals and two assists in all-comps for a team that is now Top of the Bundesliga Table. To not know what to do with that is borderline embarrassing. That said, we should stress again, that omission from this camp does not mean Pefok won’t be on the plane to the World Cup. But to prevent him from developing the chemistry and relationship with the rest of the squad this week is crazy. We’ll leave the last word on this to the Union Berlin admin.
PEPI PEPI PEPI. CAN'T YOU SEE...
Ricardo Pepi - whom Gregg did select for the upcoming friendlies - managed to put a band-aid on the gaping septic wound that is Pefok’s omission by scoring a lovely goal of his own over the weekend. He opened his European account for FC Groningen in the Netherlands with this towering header in his first Eredivisie start.
An assist and a goal in his first two appearances. Maybe it’s that canal life. Or maybe he started biking to work. Whatever it is, the Pepi train appears to be pulling out of the station again, and whether you think he’s our man at this World Cup or not, we love to see it.
WORLD CUP LOCKS DOING WORK
Tyler Adams, Brenden Aaronson and CP10 all had another week off as their fixtures were canceled due to the Queen’s passing. But the continental footballing buffet was open for business.
- Gio Reyna subbed on in the 32nd minute of Dortmund’s 1-0 Rivierderby win over Schalke after captain Marco Reus was stretchered off with an ankle injury. Reyna came off in 84th minute of the match — a sub being subbed is usually a bad look, but in this case it was BVB being mindful of Reyna’s minutes, as they ease him back from last season’s injury-ridden campaign. Danke, Dortmund. 🇺🇸💛🖤 After the match he and his teammates sent some positive Twitter energy to Reus. Then Gio bounced over to USMNT camp.
- Weston McKennie played all 90 in Juventus’ 1-0 loss at Monza. Juve is winless in their last five, and Massimiliano Allegri is really feeling the heat; to the degree that he’s apparently getting police protection after matches. Good time for Weston to steal away to Camp Gregg.
- Luca de la Torre played eight minutes as a sub - #FreeLDLT - in Celta Vigo’s 3-0 loss to a Yunus Musah-less Valencia. Musah is out with a knock and will miss U.S. Camp, although the injury is not believed to be serious. And speaking of LDLT, you can listen to his conversation with Rog in our latest episode of American States United, Presented by ESPN+ in which he talks leaving sunny San Diego for the Fulham academy at the age of 15, what it meant to make his La Liga debut against European Champions Real Madrid, and how his resilience and tenacity has helped him navigate the road less taken. A fantastic conversation, not to be missed. LISTEN HERE.
- Sergino Dest made his league debut for AC Milan, coming on as a halftime sub in their 2-1 loss to Napoli. Unfortunately, Dest’s Serie A career got off to a rocky start, as his foul on Kvaradona just eight minutes into the second half led to a Napoli penalty. On the Bright Side of the Road: he is reportedly loving life in Italy and hopes to make his Milan move permanent, as reported by Fabrizio Romano.
THE CURIOUS CASE OF ZACK STEFFEN AND INJURY UPDATES
What a boost to see Zack Steffen return to the Middlesbrough starting lineup and earn a clean sheet in Saturday’s 0 - 0 draw with Rotheram Saturday, a game in which the 27-year-old Downingtown, Pa.-native lofted long balls from the back like Jalen Hurts throwing downfield. Gregg had cited injury in leaving Steffen off the USMNT roster, so to see him start this one was slightly curious, if not encouraging.
Zack is not the only player managing a knock at the moment. Celtic’s Cameron Carter-Vickers and Crystal Palace’s Chris Richards will both be missing camp with injuries, but neither are believed to be hurt too badly. They were replaced by Mark McKenzie and Erik Palmer-Brown. McKenzie has started the last six matches for Genk, who are currently second in the Belgian top flight, and is currently the highest-rated defender in Belgium. EPB has started every match this season for Troyes, who are in 10th in Ligue 1.
FOR EVERY CARMY, THERE IS A RICHY
Away from the spotlight of Europe’s biggest clubs, a number of our boys are quietly grinding out the hard yards in European football, putting in the work, and making our nation proud. Our favorite storyline from this past weekend: Andrija Novakovich, a 25-year-old striker from Muskego, Wis. who was born in America to Serbian parents. His career has taken him from England to the Netherlands and now to Italy, where he scored a brat-fueled banger in Serie B Venezia’s 1-1 draw with Pisa Saturday. WATCH HERE
Also on the scoresheet: Bryan Reynolds, who roofed it Saturday in Belgium, where the 21-year-old from Fort Worth, Texas is currently on loan at Westerlo from AS Roma. And Terrence Boyd’s (iykyk) is still causing problems for German goalkeepers, as the 31-year-old scored twice in Kaiserslautern’s 2-2 draw with Heidenheim.
Also of note: a goal from a dual national that may cause Gregg to dispatch Jimbo Fisher South of the Border to do some recruiting. Alejandro Zendejas, a 24-year-old Mexican-American born in Juarez, but raised in El Paso, scored a beauty for Club America Saturday. Gregg and co. have apparently been monitoring Zendejas who came through the youth ranks with Chrisitan Pulisic and Tyler. For more on his story, READ HERE.
WORLD CUP CHAMPS ABROAD
You cannot mention Americans at massive clubs abroad without talking about The Great Horan. Lindsey Horan did her best Juninho impersonation and dropped this curling free kick in the back of the net for Lyon against ASJ Soyaux. Sunday’s 2-1 win was the 28-year-old forward’s first appearance of the season for Lyon. Horan’s U.S. and Lyon teammate Catarino Macario is still out with a torn ACL.
And Katie Stengel was outstanding in newly-promoted Liverpool’s (which is very weird to read) win against Chelsea. The 30-year-old forward from Melbourne, Florida scored twice in the Reds’ 2-1 win over the reigning WSL champs. A Liverpool Football Club story that even Rog can love. Who would’ve thought.